Protecting Indigenous Crops

WHAT IS AN INDIGENOUS CROP?


The indigenous crops are popular and culturally known native varieties. Every region of the world has unique traditional foods that are widely consumed by a group of people, or by a particular community. The indigenous crops of India include several varieties of rice such as colored rice, aromatic rice, and medicinal rice varieties: millets, wheat, barley, and maize. The indigenous varieties of rice and millets are resistant to drought, salinity, and floods. For example, Dharical, Dular, and Tilak Kacheri of Eastern India are adaptable to different topology, climate, and soils. The coarse cereals include sorghum, pearl millet, maize, barley, finger millet, and small millets like barnyard millet, foxtail millet, kodo millet, proso millet, and little millets

Farming of indigenous food crops is more environmentally friendly than methods used in commercial agriculture. Indigenous farming systems require less water and fewer chemical fertilisers and pesticides. These traditional farming methods help keep soil rich with biodiversity while nourishing the food that grows. According to study (Sarma et al. 1997;Jeeva et al. 2006), trees are integrated extensively for this practice the indigenoius plants along with cultivated crops are grown together in which the tree species are used for food, fiber, medicine, etc. 

According to a study published in 2020, there are many advantages to growing indigenous crops. For example:

  1. Cultivation of indigenous crops can make agriculture more genetically diverse and sustainable.
  2. Consumption of domestically cultivated indigenous crops can reduce the carbon footprints and imports.
  3. The indigenous crops are highly adapted to the climatic conditions of the land.
  4. Consumption of indigenous foods contributes to food diversity and enrichment of diet with micronutrients provides health benefits due to the interactions between the inherited genes and food nutrients.

 

PROTECTION OF INDIGENOUS CROPS


It is evident that necessary measures should be carried out to conserve the indigenous species of the nation and also to carry knowledge to the future generations by reviving the crops back into cultivation. 

The government of India may initiate the acquisition and management of germplasm of all indigenous varieties by the Indian National Genebank at the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), New Delhi. Furthermore, the primary factors that contribute to the revival of indigenous crops include:

  • The passion of farmers
  • Administrative measures initiated by the stakeholders
  • Marketing strategies of vendors 

Additionally, the knowledge about the health benefits of indigenous crops may also prevent its extinction and ensure the availability of these foods in local markets and the methods of cooking for future generations. 

The revival of indigenous crops is possible only when all the stakeholders define and bring these crops under a special category similar to the one initiated in Kyoto, Japan. In Kyoto Prefecture, the “native varieties” are categorized into “Kyonodentoyasai,” and outside the prefecture, it is called “BrandKyoyasai” .

Additionally, traditional food products of India may be collectively registered with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Food Heritages as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity similar to the registrations obtained for the washoku, a traditional dietary culture of Japan.

SEED POLICY IN INDIA


Seeds are the basic and most critical input for sustainable agriculture.  The response of all other inputs depends on the quality of seeds to a large extent.  It is estimated that the direct contribution of quality seed alone to the total production is about 15 – 20% depending upon the crop and it can be further raised up to 45% with efficient management of other inputs. The developments in the seed industry in India, particularly in the last 30 years, are very significant. The introduction of New Seed Development Policy (1988 – 1989) was yet another significant milestone in the Indian Seed Industry, which had a great impact on the industry itself.

 The policy gave access to Indian farmers to the best of seeds and planting materials available anywhere in the world. As a result, farmers have a wide product choice and the seed industry today is set to work with a ‘farmer centric’ approach and is market-driven.  However, there is an urgent need for the State Seed Corporations to improve their infrastructure, technologies, approach and management culture to be able to survive in the competitive market and to enhance their contribution in the national endeavour of increasing food production to attain food & nutritional security.

 

NATIONAL SEEDS POLICY, 2002: THRUST AREAS


  • Variety development
  • Plant variety protection
  • Seed production
  • Quality assurance
  •  Seed distribution and marketing
  •  Infrastructure facilities
  •  Transgenic plant varieties
  •  Import of seeds and planting materials
  •  Seed exports
  •  Promotion of domestic private sector seed industry
  •  Strengthening of the  monitoring system

 

The key initiatives announced in this policy are as follows:

  • A Plant Varieties & Farmers’ Rights Protection (PVP) Authority will be established which will undertake registration of extant and new plant varieties through the Plant Varieties. Registry on the basis of varietal characteristics.
  • A National Gene Fund will be established for implementation of the benefit sharing arrangement, and payment of compensation to village communities for their contribution to the development and conservation of plant genetic resources and also to promote conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources. Suitable systems will be worked out to identify the contributions from traditional knowledge and heritage.
  • Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture Crops will be permitted to be accessed by Research Organisations and Seed Companies from public collections as per the provisions of the ‘Material Transfer Agreement’ of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources and the Biological Diversity Bill.
  • The National Seeds Board (NSB) will be established in place of the existing Central Seed Committee and Central Seed Certification Board. The NSB will have permanent existence with the responsibility of executing and implementing the provisions of the Seeds Act and advising the Government on all matters relating to seed planning and development. The NSB will function as the apex body in the seed sector.

 

CREATION OF SEED BANKS


A seed bank is a type of gene bank where seeds of different crops and rare plant species are stored for future use. Seed banks are created to maintain and protect biodiversity, where samples of all species are collected and stored. In case seed reserves elsewhere are destroyed, the seed bank is opened to provide seeds to farmers at defined quantities for growing plants.

 

Seed Banks in India:

NATIONAL SEED CORPORATION


The National Seeds Corporation established in 1963, is responsible for creation of a centralized facility for data bank and information system on availability of seed stock under the scheme. Working under the Ministry of Agriculture, NSC undertakes production, processing and marketing of agricultural seeds. It is also involved in formulation of seed certification standards done through seed testing laboratories by checking the compatibility of different seeds.

 

STATE SEEDS CORPORATION


The State Seed Certification Agencies (SSCAs) are responsible for seed certification in the concerned states. The SSCAs make field inspections and conduct seed tests required for seed certification.

Each state has a State Seed Certification Board which supervises the activities of its SSCA. Persons involved in seed processing and distribution, including businessmen dealing with production, processing, and marketing of seeds, and scientists from agricultural universities, are the members of this board.

 

THE SEED BILL, 2019


The Seed Bill, 2019 aims to regulate the quality of seeds sold and facilitate the production and supply of these seeds to farmers. It aims to foster competition by amending the Seed Act, 1966 and Seed Rules, 1968.

It is an important legislation to ensure the supply of modern, high-quality, cutting-edge seed technologies to the farmers which will help them in enhancing their productivity and profitability.

 

  • Formation of Seed committee: The Bill authorizes the Central government to reconstitute a Central Seed Committee (based in New Delhi) that will be responsible for the effective implementation of its provisions.
  • Registration of Seed Varieties
  • Draft Bill Provision: All varieties of seeds for sale have to be registered and are required to meet certain prescribed minimum standards. For instance, for transgenic varieties of seeds, registration is to be obtained under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. This can bring greater accountability to seed companies.
  • Industry Recommendation: Make the registration process time-bound.

SEED DISTRIBUTION AND MARKETING


  • The availability of high-quality seeds to farmers through an improved distribution system and efficient marketing set-up are ensured to facilitate greater security of seed supply.
  • For promoting efficient and timely distribution and marketing of seeds throughout the country, a supportive environment is provided to encourage expansion of the role of the private seed sector. Efforts are made to achieve better coordination between State Governments to facilitate free Inter-State movement of seed and planting material through the exemption of duties and taxes. Private Seed Sector is encouraged and motivated to restructure and reorient its activities to cater to non-traditional areas. A mechanism is established for collection and dissemination of market intelligence regarding preference of consumers and farmers. 
  • A National Seed Grid is established as a database for monitoring information on the requirement of seeds, its production, distribution, and preference of farmers on a district-wise basis.
  • Access to term finance from Commercial Banks are facilitated for developing efficient seed distribution and marketing facilities for the growth of the seed sector.
  • Distribution and marketing of seeds of any variety, for the purpose of sowing and planting, is allowed only if the said variety has been registered by the National Seeds Board.
  • National Seeds Board can direct a dealer to sell or distribute seeds in a specified manner in a specified area if it is considered necessary to the public interest.

PROTECTION OF PEOPLE/LAND/CROPS AGAINST HAZARDOUS/LIFE-THREATENING CHEMICALS


The industrialization of the agricultural sector has increased the chemical burden on natural ecosystems. Pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides are agrochemicals used in agricultural lands, public health programs, and urban green areas in order to protect plants and humans from various diseases. However, due to their known ability to cause a large number of negative health and environmental effects, their side effects can be an important environmental health risk factor. 

There is now overwhelming evidence that some of these chemicals do pose a potential risk to humans and other life forms and unwanted side effects to the environment.

The Agricultural Chemicals Regulation Law defines“agricultural chemicals” as chemical agents such as fungicides and insecticides that are used to control crop-harming organisms (e.g., fungi, nematodes, mites, insects, and rodents) or viruses (hereinafter collectively referred to as “diseases and pests”) (the “crop,” as used herein, shall include wood and agroforestry products and those used to promote or inhibit the physiology of agricultural and other products, such as plant growth regulators and germination inhibitors (Hereinafter referred to as “agricultural and other products). The chemical agents here include those manufactured using the above chemical agents as raw materials or ingredients that are intended to control the diseases and pests that are stipulated in the ordinances. The law also includes “natural enemies” and “microorganisms” that are used to control diseases and pests of agricultural and other products, as agricultural chemicals.

 

The Insecticides Act, 1968

The Insecticides Act, 1968 and Insecticides Rules, 1971 regulate the import, registration process, manufacture, sale, transport, distribution, and use of insecticides (pesticides) with a view to prevent risk to human beings or animals and for all connected matters, throughout India. All insecticides (pesticides) have to necessarily undergo the registration process with the Central Insecticides Board & Registration Committee (CIB & RC) before they can be made available for use or sale. 

The Registration Certificate mandates that a label be put on the packaging, which clearly indicates the nature of the insecticide (Agricultural or Household use), composition, active ingredient, target pest(s), recommended dosage, caution sign, and safety precautions. Therefore a pesticide labelled for agriculture should not be used in a household.

The Central Insecticide Board and Registration Committee scrutinizes and periodically reviews all pesticides and their usage – some are banned from registration itself. Sometimes a pesticide can be banned even after registration when it causes serious environmental and public health concerns. Some pesticides are meant for “Restricted Use” which means that they can be used only for prescribed purposes and by authorised personnel by obtaining the appropriate Government license. The entire list can be viewed at: List of Banned Pesticides in India.

 

Pesticides Management Bill, 2008

The Pesticides Management Bill, 2008 was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on October 21, 2008.

The Bill seeks to regulate the manufacture, quality, import, export and sale of pesticides to control pests, ensure the availability of quality pesticides and minimize contamination of agricultural commodities with pesticide residue. It repeals the Insecticides Act, 1968.

“Pesticide” means any substance of chemical or biological origin intended for preventing or destroying any pest, which includes unwanted plants and animals during the production, storage and distribution of agricultural commodities or animal feed. 

The Central Government shall constitute a Central Pesticides Board to advise the Central and State Governments on matters related to the law such as:

(a) prevention of risk to human beings, animals, and the environment during the manufacture, sale, and transport of pesticides; 

(b) monitoring performance of registered pesticides; and 

(c) review of the safety of pesticides.

One has to apply to the Registration Committee for registration in order to manufacture, import, or export pesticides. No pesticide shall be registered unless its tolerance level is specified for its residues on crops and commodities under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.